Pokemon Stadium 2 (GS)
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3D polygonal battle scenes with upgraded special effects.
All-new gameplay modes, including new mini-games.
Compatible with Pokemon Blue/Red, Pokemon Yellow, and Pokemon Gold/Silver.
Data exchange via Transfer Pak.
Built-in EEPROM for storing Pokemon and items on cart.
Factor 5 Voice Compression.
As in Stadium, presentation is slick. Menus are crisp and easy to follow, and the game is simple to navigate, even with all of the new stuff. The main map provides access to all of the areas: Stadium, Your House, Pokemon Academy, Gym Leader Castle, the Pokemon Lab, Game Boy Tower and the Mini-games.
All of these areas are easily explored, as the interface is intuitive. It is especially easy to use the Transfer Pak with the game. Whenever you are choosing Pokemon for battle, a Game Boy cartridge will be displayed next to your controller, and you'll have the option of using your Gold and Silver creatures and items, as long as they fit battle parameters. The Pokemon Lab allows complete control over Pokemon. Here you can trade, examine and rearrange your beasts, between the Transfer Pak, Gold/Silver games and the Stadium 2 cartridge.
The battle system, which dominates gameplay, is easy to follow, as it mirrors the Game Boy skirmishes any Pokefan is well versed in. However, even if you have never explored the world of Pokemon, everything about Stadium 2 is user-friendly.
Nintendo did a great job of connecting to Pokemon fans yet again. Every day, you will be able to collect a special mystery gift to use in your Game Boy game. In addition, as you win more and more battles, you are given sweet secret prizes. For triumphing over Gym Leader Castle, for instance, you will be awarded a Dodrio Game Boy, which will speed up gameplay on Gold or Silver whenever you play it at Gym Leader Castle.
As you would expect, the graphics in Stadium 2 are very utilitarian. Since it is primarily a turn-based fighting game, the only graphics in the game are the scads of pocket monsters that battle in many arenas. While it nice to see your favorite Game Boy Pokemon in 3D when the original Stadium came out, this is more of the same. Sure, the new Dark and Steel Types are getting a debut treatment, but beyond that, the characters are pretty much rehashed from the original. That isn't necessary bad, as most people aren't going to buy this game based on graphics, anyway. That said, the graphics do exactly what they need to do--present the charming monsters with all of their foibles in a three dimensional environment.
In fact, the environments have improved a bit since the last game. Sure, the textures are still pretty pixelated and weak, but they've got more character. In the Gym Leader Castle part of the game, for instance, the castle arenas get more and more ominous the further you climb, culminating in a beautifully castle in the clouds that is overshadowed by a huge, stone dragon. Likewise in the Stadium battles, a lot of effort was put into the different arenas and their function in the game. The Challenge Cup starts on a huge field, a mere grid of Poke arenas in the grass. As you advance through the tournament, the arenas get bigger and more exclusive, until you're battling on the marquis stage. These small details have significantly improved the backdrops over last year's bland efforts.
The animations have changed a bit as well. Some of the attack animations have been made more spectacular, and of course, we get to witness the new Type moves from Gold and Silver. The most noticeable change in animation, however, is the shortening of faint sequences. In Stadium, you could really relish in victory and anguish in defeat, because every time a Pokemon went down, it went through an elaborate death knell. Here, the animations have been clipped, as opposing trainers quickly pull back their Pokemon before the traumatic fainting animation ends. Its a little thing probably designed either to appease those who couldn't handle seeing the cute beasts suffer (namely touchy parents) or to speed up gameplay. But whatever the reason, shortening these victorious moments was the wrong impulse.
There are so many options and so much to do in Pokemon Stadium 2 that you couldn't rightly give gameplay a low score. But the fact of the matter is that straight turn-based fighting can get old after, say, the five hundredth battle. This game is, in a word, repetitive. In Stadium and Gym Leader modes all you do is battle through literally hundreds of opponents, and when you are done, you battle some more.
Stadium mode has a ridiculous number of fights. There are four separate tournaments in the Stadium sector. Little Cup is for Level 5 Pokemon only, in which you battle through only eight trainers to claim the prize. The Poke Cup is a club tournament, in which you take on four waves of eight in the Poke Ball, Great Ball, Ultra Ball and Master Ball. This tournament is open only to Level 50-55 Pokemon. The Prime Cup is similar to its counterpart in the original Stadium. Level 1-100 Pokemon can enter, and there are eight battles on the way to the championship. For each of these three tourneys, you can use your own Pokemon, providing they fit the level requirements.
For the biggest Pokemon tourney, the Challenge Cup, you must commandeer a mix of randomized Pokemon against other teams of six. This Cup also has four levels of championship: Poke Ball, Great Ball, Ultra Ball and Master Ball, meaning 32 battles to win. This competition can be extremely difficult, as you often land a team that is heavy in one Type area, but weak in another. And it does not allow you to use your own Pokemon, which is a bit odd, since taking GB-trained Pokemon into battle is the heart and soul of this game.
Making your way through all of these tournaments is a painstaking process, even with an elite team. By the time you reach the Master Ball in the Challenge Cup, you are thoroughly sick of playing with rental Pokemon and just want the trophy already. Of course, if you are a complete Pokemaniac, all this battling could be a dream come true. I just found it a bit tedious.
In addition to Stadium mode, the Gym Leader Castle is back as well. Here, you're given the opportunity to battle through all the gyms you ran across in Johto in the Gold and Silver games. Each gym has varying numbers of trainers, from one to four. As you beat a gym, you climb to the next, all the way up the castle to the Elite Four and, of course, you?re ultimate Rival. Here again, a lot of battle for not much pay-off. When you beat the rival, you then go to Kanto castle and fight through the gym leaders from the original Stadium. At the end of it all, you are awarded a Dodrio Game Boy so you can go back and play Gold and Silver at double the speed.
It's all just too much, the volume of battles here wore down resolve. It's not that the game isn't fun... it is, especially when you finally triumph over the Prime Cup with your assembled team. It feels like an accomplishment, simply because you've put so much time and emotion into your creatures. And it isn't that it doesn't provide challenge... it does. Would it have killed them to make this a full-fledged gam, with a quest mode of its own? It wouldn't even have to be as good or long as the quests in Gold or Silver, and could sell a whole lot more games. Call me a simpleton, but I like my RPGs with a little story to balance the battle. Stadium 2 just became much more of a sipping tea for me, as I cut down the marathon sessions of battling, or tempered them with trips to the other areas of the game.
Luckily, the other areas are equally engrossing, so you can move around and take a break without ever leaving the game proper. The best new section Nintendo added was the Pokemon Academy. This is split into two sections: Library and Classroom. The Library contains hundreds of pages of Pokemon information. It is basically like having a strategy guide for Gold and Silver at your fingertips. Take a look at the Type match-ups grid, look at each Pokemon's stats and evolution charts, take a gander at the Egg Groups, or find out what moves each monster can learn. It's all here.
Then, step inside the classroom and learn even more. Here, Professor Earl will give a lecture, explaining the finer points of Pokemon battling. Your job is to listen carefully, because you'll be tested. You have to listen to the lecture, pass the test, and then put your newly learned skills to the test in a series of battles that demonstrates you understood the lecture. Only once you beat all of these battles will you be allowed to progress to the next level of studies. There are three levels in all, and the Elite Four stage is crazy hard. But the classroom is good, especially for beginners. Not only will you learn a lot about Pokemon in general, but in the differences between the Blue/Red/Yellow Stadium and the Gold/Silver Stadium 2.
Other highlights are the Game Boy Tower, which allows you to play your Gold or Silver Game Boy game on the TV. The graphics don't improve, but they are bigger, and by definition your television is backlit, so that's a bonus. In addition, there is your Room, which mirrors your room in the Gold or Silver game. If you have a poster on your wall in Gold, it will appear here, and vice versa. A lot of the Mystery Gifts that you will accrue will end up in your room. This is a nice little personalizing element and touches on what makes Pokemon so special--the intense connection with the gamer.
Speaking of connection, the Lab provides all of the administrative tasks of being a trainer in one place. Access your Gold/Silver Pokemon, trade them with another player, or dump them to the game cartridge. The Lab is easy to use and mistake-proof. You won't lose any Pokemon in the shuffle here.
The final area on the map is the mini-games. There are quite a few, and most of them are really fun. There are now 12 new minigames in Pokemon Stadium 2. Here's a list and a brief description:
Gusty Golbat - You fly around trying to catch as many hearts as you can while avoiding Magnemites and other Golbats.
Topsy-Turvy - You control a head spinning Hitmontop and try to knock the others out of the ring.
Clear-Cut Challenge - Scyther and Pinsir try to cut wooden logs as they fall from above. The closer your cut to the white line, the more points you are rewarded. If you go over the line however, you lose points.
Furret's Frolic - You try to get your Furret to bounce a giant Pok? Ball into your goal.
Barrier Ball - A 4-Player Pong game with Mr. Mime.
Pichu's Power Plant - Power up your Pichu first by pressing A+B as fast as you can.
Rampage Rollout - Control Donphan around a racetrack 9 times while avoiding dust tornadoes from the other players.
Streaming Stampede - A stampede of Pokemon race across the screen while you try to count only the one that was chosen at the beginning of the game.
Tumbling Togepi - Similar to the Rattata Race from Stadium, you control Togepi as it rolls down a hill while avoiding rocks and other obstacles.
Delibird's Delivery - You control Delibird to the bottom of the screen to gather bags, which need to be delivered back to the top.
Egg Emergency - As eggs fall from above, your Chansey must catch them in her pouch while avoiding Voltorbs.
Eager Eevee - Eevee runs around on the outside of a carousel, but when fruit appears in the middle you must go up and eat it.
The mini-games make for quite a but of furious four-player action, and provide a great multiplayer element. They are huge strides ahead of the mini-games on the Stadium game. And in this one, if you win enough mini-games, you'll get Coins to use in the Pokemon Casino, just another example of the wonderful interactivity of this add-on.
Sound was the weakest part of the original game, and it continues to be a problem here. For the most part, they have neglected to include any of the signature Pokemon voices. Fans of the television show will be especially disappointed at the lack of character in this regard.
Since you spend 99% of this game in battle, it would have been nice to have a less generic announcer. This is an area that could have been greatly improved over the first effort, but was not even touched. We still have the "that Pokemon was badly injured." Seventy-five percent of the time, the announcer will not even say the Pokemon's name when describing the battle. Therefore, you'll hear a lot of the same boring phrases repeated over and over.
Luckily, the attack sounds are good. A blast of lightning is loud and crackly, as it should be. A RockSlide sounds just that heavy. The surfing sound makes me want to grab a boogie board. It's too bad they couldn't apply some of their energy toward bettering the comments during battle. After a couple days of heavy play, I simply turned the sound off.
Depending on how on how you look at it, Pokemon Stadium 2 has infinite appeal, or none at all. Those who have carefully collected every Pokemon, every TM, and every Item, will be eager to get into the Stadium and take their trained Pokemon against the elite--the Gym Leaders and Pokemasters in the many modes of the game. For those who have friends with Pokemon, these are the ultimate proving grounds. The game offers quite a bit to those who are well versed in the Pokemon world, including a basic strategy guide on types, items and moves. It also provides secrets and gifts for your Game Boy game that you could not easily get any other way.